In psychotherapy, we are asked to face all of our insecurities, fears, regrets, guilt and shame. It can seem intrusive, foreign and taboo. How can embracing our pains in the presence of someone we don’t know lead to healing? The idea of therapy can push us away because it makes us feel as if there is something wrong with us. And what if someone found out we were going and judged us harshly?
I’d like to address some of these concerns by offering a little of the perspective from the Catholic therapist who is caring for you while you lay on the proverbial “couch.” My hope is to help remove some of the common stumbling blocks that stand in the way of people receiving the care that they need. Let’s clear up some of the fears, doubts and misperceptions.
Wounds. We all have them. We live in a world filled with “walking-wounded.” Many people live with the pain of depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction and so much more. They believe the lie that their experience is the best that life has to offer. Other people search desperately for healing in many areas of their life but don’t find what they are looking for. In both cases, people do not receive the care that they need.
But just like when someone receives medical treatment for diabetes, strep-throat, or bronchitis, so too can people receive mental health treatment for emotional afflictions. Psychotherapy can provide the treatment to heal emotional wounds just like the medical field can heal physical ailments.
While the interior life is mysterious, it is not unknowable. There are reasons why we feel what we feel and do what we do. A therapist can help us navigate through the confusion of our minds to help untangle mistaken perceptions of who we are. At the core of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors is the search for some “good” that we believe will make us happy. The proper insight into the motivation of these psychological realities can help us sort out our lives instead of being trapped in feelings of self-hatred, doubt, confusion, anger, hopelessness, and loneliness.
The therapist guides the wounded soul out of a maze of confusion and onto a path to healing. He or she can help develop insight into the true self, which includes identifying such realities as self-worth, meaning and personal values. The guide can spot potholes along the path that normally go unnoticed. Without such help, these stumbling blocks can continue to trip us up, perpetuating a cycle of emotional pain.
Trusting the guide to help lead us can be another stumbling block. People in our past have hurt us when we trusted before. This is reinforced by our media culture—a world of tabloids, talk shows, and People’s Magazine, where gossip and slander desecrate our inner-selves in the name of entertainment. It is no wonder why true human intimacy is hindered. Many wear masks and shy away from truly revealing themselves to others for fear of being hurt, disrespected, and desecrated.
Our Catholic faith offers us an alternative perspective. My training as a therapist has awakened in me a spirit of reverence for the interior life, as it provides us with a sense of the human soul. The Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully explains, that “the ‘soul’ refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image” (CCC 363). Therefore, each person’s interior life is a sacred house. As such, reverence and respect should always be observed when someone reveals their interiority to the world.
The interior life is a sacred and fragile reality, which I believe should be cared for with a gentle hand. It should be a hopeful and safe place, which recognizes the presence of the Lord. I am witness to the essence of human beauty, resilience and goodness. And I am awed by the privilege of such an invitation to help heal in this sacred space. With this as a starting point, my hope is that all of those I work with find the security in knowing that a true Catholic approach to psychotherapy will always respect the dignity of each person’s interior self.
“Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
And He brought them out of their distresses.
He caused the storm to be still,
So that the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they were quiet,
So He guided them to their desired haven” (Psalm 107:28-30).